Excellencies ASEAN Economic Ministers, AFTA Council Ministers, AIA Council Ministers,
Excellency ASEAN Secretary General,
Distinguished Delegates, National and International Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen!
First of all, on behalf of the Royal Government and People of Cambodia, I would like to extend my warmest welcome to the Distinguished ASEAN Ministers, ASEAN Secretary General, ASEAN Delegates and honored guests that have come to attend the 44th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting and other related, meetings including the sideline meetings of the private sector, being held in Siem Reap, the Ancient land of Angkor. As the Chair of ASEAN in 2012, Cambodia is honored to host this series of important meetings as, on the one hand, it coincides with the celebration of the 45th Anniversary of ASEAN which took place early this month, and on the other hand, it is convened amidst ASEAN’s ongoing efforts toward building the ASEAN Community by 2015.
After more than four decades of development, ASEAN has undergone a major transformation since its founding in 1967, from an unstable region to a region of peace, stability and development. Today, ASEAN has become a closely-integrated political and economic entity, an influential player in Asia and an indispensable strategic partner of major countries and organizations in the World. Cambodia is certainly proud of having made positive contribution to ASEAN according to its capacity and ability in bringing about such progress since it became a full member of ASEAN in 1999.
Indeed, the ASEAN’s enormous achievements recorded to date underline the strong commitment and political will of ASEAN to continue working closely together in the ASEAN spirit of unity and solidarity, friendship and cooperation, and people centered community. This ASEAN spirit symbolizes the theme for this year under Cambodia’s Chairman of ASEAN, “ASEAN: One Community, One Destiny,” to reaffirm ASEAN’s undivided attention ad political commitment to work, both collectively and individually, toward the successful realization of the ASEAN Community by 2015 and beyond, as a cohesive family, living in political, security, economic and socio-cultural harmony. I am very pleased that ASEAN economies grew by 4.7% last year despite the tightening economic conditions, higher oil prices, and volatile global capital flows. ASEAN continued to post a trade surplus of US$98.5 billion in 2011 despite a slowdown in export growth. Export value amounted to US$1.24 trillion while import reached US$1.15 trillion.
Nevertheless, ASEAN still continues to face challenges, both globally and regionally, such as the fragile of the economic recovery of developed countries, coupled with prolonged sever debt crisis in Europe, the ongoing social and political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, high oil prices, food and energy security, climate change, natural disasters, terrorism and transnational crime, and so forth. Within the region, although the development gap among ASEAN members has been narrowed down over the years, it is still huge. All these still pose a great threat to the sustainability of socio-economic development of ASEAN achieved over the last four decades. We can clearly see that these challenges cannot be tackled at national level, but require a more cooperative in-depth and comprehensive approach at regional level. In this sense I believe that ASEAN will further strengthen its unity to jointly address and fulfill the remaining gaps such as narrowing development gap, ASEAN connectivity of both physical and institutional infrastructure, and promotion of SMEs’ role in regional economic development.
With efforts to make more positive contribution to the goal of ASEAN Economic community, we firmly believe that the 20th ASEAN Summit, especially, amongst others, the Phnom Penh Agenda adapted by the ASEAN Leaders during the 20th summit, have provided an important guidance and strong impetus in redoubling efforts for the ASEAN integration process while strengthening the ASEAN centrality in the evolving regional architecture.
ASEAN Economic Ministers have a crucial role to play in the ASEAN Economic Community Building, especially in addressing tariff and non-tariff barriers as well as emerging issues related to implementation gaps of ASEAN FTAs and other FTAs with dialogue partners in order to deepen regional trade integration. In this spirit, I would like to draw the attention of ASEAN Ministers to the following priorities:
First, realizing the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015 is the top priority in order to transform ASEAN to be a single market and production base, with free flow of goods, services, investment, skilled labor, and freer flow of capital. Thus, there is a need to prioritize actions and key concrete measures to address challenges and bridge the development gap, which hinders the realization of ASEAN Economic Community as planned. In this regard, I believe that the Report of the Mid-Term Review of the AEC Blueprint completed by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) can serve as a basis for the Economic Ministers to review and put forward concrete policy measures to address implementation gaps between now and 2015 including ways and means to tackle protectionism in trade in goods and services within ASEAN. Specifically, in strengthening the implementation of the existing ATIGA, Cambodia has finalized policy actions to address its ATIGA obligations.
Second, maintaining and strengthening ASEAN centrality in the evolving regional architecture is critical. Indeed, the realization of AEC faces a number of challenges, which requires a more cooperative and comprehensive approach, particularly through national efforts and regional cooperation. I would like to encourage ASEAN Ministers to look at proper approaches in (i) strengthening the effective implementation of the existing ATIGA and ASEAN Free Trade Agreements with Dialogue Partners, (ii) coming up with the agreed ASEAN Framework for Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) guideline to allow the Leaders to launch the RCEP negotiation at the 21st ASEAN Summit in November 2012, and (iii) making further efforts to expand the future integration framework with other major ASEAN Dialogue Partners such as EU, US, including Russia and Canada. Through Ministerial Meetings and Consultations, I believe ASEAN and its Dialogue Partners will be able to reach consensus on the resolution of outstanding issues for broader economic integration and sustainable development. In this regard, I welcome the first AEM-Canada consultations including the first meeting with Canada-ASEAN Business Council in coming days and the endorsement of the Work Plan (2012-2015) to implement the ASEAN-Canada Joint Declaration on Trade and Investment.
Third, narrowing development gap is important. It is not only a pre-condition for ensuring ASEAN competitiveness and reducing poverty of our people but also for helping ASEAN achieve real regional integration as well as promoting its centrality for the integration with other regional and global economies. This requires us to double our efforts to promote further growth and improve equitable distribution of the fruits of growth at both national and regional levels. In this regard, we have to promote an early implementation of the ASEAN Framework for Equitable Economic Development (AFEED), so that we can overcome the challenge in order to achieve our objectives. In doing so, I would like to request the ASEAN Ministers to speed up the preparation of a concrete Work Plan development, which includes three elements: (i) financial inclusion, (ii) connectivity corridors, and (iii) SME development, with capacity building initiatives by involved sectorial bodies.
Fourth, strengthening the connectivity of ASEAN in physical and institutional infrastructure; and people to people connectivity is the key for narrowing development gap and ensuring successful integration of ASEAN. We need to expedite the implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity. For this purpose, with the ADB support we jointly established the “ASEAN Infrastructure Fund” which is now already in operation. Nevertheless, we admit that the Fund of around USD 500 million is still very small. It cannot sufficiently respond to the great need of the ASEAN connectivity. Therefore, ASEAN Economic Ministers and ASEAN Finance Ministers need to take necessary measure to attract more financing partners to increase the Fund size, especially the ASEAN plus Three partners, East Asia Summit (plus 8) and multilateral institutions.
Fifth, strengthening the regional cooperation on food security including Halal food is important for food market expansion. With the large population growth, ASEAN as a region has also realized the importance and urgency to pursue this area of cooperation. This will not only enable ASEAN to secure food supply in the region, but also to be the leading global food exporters. Hence, I would like to encourage ASEAN Ministers to work on the opportunities to expand our food market to other countries in the world.
Sixth, considering request for accession to ASEAN-China FTA by Hong Kong. For the benefits of increasing market access to Hong Kong which is one of the 10 largest trading partners of ASEAN, and based on positive studies made on the impacts of Hong Kong’s Accession to the ACFTA, I would like to request the ASEAN Economic Ministers to make recommendations on legal implication, impacts, and challenges pertaining to the Hong Kong’s accession to ASEAN Leaders at the 21st ASEAN Summit to be held in November 2012 for their decision.
Apart from the above priority, we still have many other challenging issues which need to be jointly addressed in order to bring about the progress and prosperity for our people. In order to realize the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, cooperation at the government level alone is not sufficient. This requires a broader participation of relevant stakeholders at all levels, particularly the support and participation of private sector and of ASEAN people as a whole.
Before concluding, I would like to reiterate that it has been more than 10 years since Cambodia became a full member of ASEAN. We are proud that during this period Cambodia has been able to make a considerable progress. ASEAB membership has allowed Cambodia to strengthen its integration with the region and the international community. At the same time, Cambodia has been strictly fulfilling her role in ASEAN to build a peaceful, prosperous and harmonious regional community, as well as to transform ASEAN into a model of regional cooperation with global importance. AS the chair of ASEAN in 2012, Cambodia will make great efforts within its capacity to closely cooperate with other member countries in achieving various priorities of ASEAN toward the building of “ASEAN: One Community, One Destiny.”
Finally, I wish Your Excellencies, Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen success in your deliberation for the common interest of establishing the ASENA Economic Community. Once again, allow me to extend a very warm welcome to all of you and wish you a pleasant and comfortable stay and hope that you will also carry back with you lasting memories of Cambodia’s culture and civilization as “The Kingdom of Wonder” upon your return back to your respective countries.
May I now announce the official opening of the 44th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting!
Thank you for your attention!